- E. Alexander Powell
- 1879 - 1958
American War Correspondent and Adventure Writer
- left - Mr. Powell (right) posing with a German general in 1914
- right - a portrait of Mr. Powell in American Army uniform in 1917
Edward Alexander Powell was born in 1879. His family were horse breeders or ranchers and at an early age he was sent with a consignment of thoroughbred horses to Mexico. Returning by way of Cuba, he was not only struck with a severe case of dysentery, but was also infected with a life-long love of traveling and adventure. Afterwards he started out on a career that would take him all over the world, into some of the most inhospitable and remote regions left on earth, to the battlefields of the Great War and into the company of many of the 20th centurys most important leaders and politicians - Theodore Roosevelt, Albert I King of the Belgians, Winston Churchill, Lord Northcliffe, Generals Gouraud and Nivelle, Pancho Villa, Gabriele d'Annunzio, the Shah of Persia, Marshalls von Hindenburg and Pilsudski, Soviet Marshall Tuckashevsky, Adolf Hitler and many more.
He started out on a career of journalism and adventure writing more or less unintentionally. While traveling around Europe before the Great War, his first articles were on horsing and sporting events but almost naturally he slipped into writing travel and adventure pieces and later went on to straight news reporting. As a side profession, he joined the British army for a short period after graduating and was also employed by the US government in the consular service in the Middle East for a while.
When the Great War broke out in August 1914, he made a sporting proposition to Mr. Charles Lincoln, managing editor of the 'New York World'. He proposed he set off to Belgium to cover the war on his own expense, expecting only to be paid upon producing anything of interest to the newspaper. He was taken up on his proposal, quickly delivered in spades and was thereafter paid handsomely for his war-time reporting.
Having previously lived in Belgium, he was more or less knowledgeable of the country and decided he had a better chance of doing serious war-reporting unhindered by the Belgian authorities there, than in France. He was ever so correct.
He took up rooms in the Saint Anthoine, Antwerps most elegant hotel and at that time residence to ambassadors and statesmen from all over Europe. The city was besieged by German forces and was seat of the Belgian government. By great luck, he witnessed the first ever aerial bombardment of a city in wartime when a Zeppelin bombed Antwerp from the air on August 25th 1914. Not only did his dispatches scoop other newsmen, but in the excitement of the attack he struck up acquaintance with the wife of Belgiums Secretary of State, Mrs. Vandervelde who ultimately provided him with a formal laissez-passer allowing access to all military areas in Belgium. He made good use of his documents and traveled to the Belgian front lines and besieged fortifications to see at first-hand the early battles in Belgium and ultimately the dramatic fall of the city.
Being an American and therefore a neutral, he was allowed passage through the battlelines and visited with German generals. During the siege of Antwerp, he teamed up with another American journalist, photographer and cinematographer Donald Thompson from Kansas. Together they covered the siege from inside the city till the surrender in October 1914 and temporarily fulfilled the post of American consul during the bombardment. Powell and Thompson were among the few non-German newsmen on hand to witness the German triumphal march through Antwerp.
Immediately after the fall of Antwerp, he wrote Fighting in Flanders (see links below) which was published in November 1914, barely a month after the fall of the city. It was an engrossing and adventurous account of this Allied setback, dictated to stenographers while recuperating from wounds in hospital and finished in 11 days. Brought out less than a month after the events themselves, it was one of the wars first best-sellers and was translated into many languages. His obvious pro-Belgian stance in this book made him less than welcome in the German lines afterwards, but that did not seem to be a problem. He kept up reporting on the war, mainly from France and later published two very successful war books called 'Vive la France' and 'Italy at War', which were both more or less collections of lengthy articles of his observations of conditions on various fronts. These were later followed by 'Brothers in Arms' and 'the Army Behind the Army', both concerning American participation in the war. During the inter-war years he rewrote his war-time experiences as journalist and officer in greater detail in the book 'Slanting Lines of Steel'.
During later war years, Powell covered almost every part of the Western and Italian fronts. Unashamedly pro-Entente in his appreciation, he was allowed access to the front lines by both British, French and Italian commanders. He produced very fine and detailed pieces on many aspects of the war, showing a somewhat eager appreciation for the Allied cause, but tempered with a typical American down-to-earthness, a fine eye for detail, description of landscape and mood and for contemporary writers, a more than usual caring about the trials and hardships faced by the common soldier.
Upon American entry into the war in April 1917, Mr. Powell volunteered for military service and was commissioned as a captain in Military Intelligence. After several postings, he sustained spinal injuries in France falling off a horse in September 1918, and convalesced until after the Armistice. He left the American Armed Forces with the rank of major.
After the Great War, he continued his journalistic career as adventure writer by traveling far and abroad, writing numbers of books and articles. It would be hard to find an area of the world Mr. Powell didnt visit during his lifetime: he went to Russian Central Asia, Indonesia, India, all over the Middle East, Ethiopia, Africa, Persia, the Soviet Union and even managed to enter Nepal at a time when the country was still formally closed to all foreigners.
Though written more than half a century ago, his books remain eminently readable and engrossing. He writes clearly and precisely with little frill or pretension, but his descriptions of place and mood are very accessible, especially when he tempers his writing with a mild form of Yankee humor and light-heartedness. And yet for all his seemingly common American hometown mannerisms he moved in the highest diplomatic and business circles of his time, friend and acquaintance to some of the 20th centurys most famous and infamous politicians and military men.
His autobiography was published in 1954 and was very aptly called Adventure Road.
Mr. Powell died on November 13th, 1958 at the age of 78.
- left : dustjacket to 'Fighting in Flanders'
- right : cover binding for 'Brothers in Arms'
- (covers provided by [email protected])
BOOKS by E. ALEXANDER POWELL
The Great War
- FIGHTING IN FLANDERS
- The Campaign in Belgium, 1914
- VIVE LA FRANCE!
- The Campaign in France, 1915
- ITALY AT WAR
- The Campaign in Italy, 1916
- BROTHERS IN ARMS
- America Declares War, 1917
- THE ARMY BEHIND THE ARMY
- America at War, 1917-18
- SLANTING LINES OF STEEL
- Adventures of a War Correspondent
Travel and Adventure
- YONDER LIES ADVENTURE!
- Experiences of a Professional Onlooker
- THE LAST FRONTIER
- The White Man's War for Civilization in Africa
- THE END OF THE TRAIL
- The Far West from Mexico to Alaska
- THE NEW FRONTIERS OF FREEDOM
- From the Alps to the Agean
- WHERE THE STRANGE TRAILS GO DOWN
- The Philippines, Sumatra, Java, Bali, Borneo, the Celebes, the Malay Peninsula, Siam
- BY CAMEL AND CAR TO THE PEACOCK THRONE
- Syria, Palestine, Transjordania, Arabia, Iraq, Persia
- BEYOND THE UTMOST PURPLE RIM
- The Somali Coast, Abyssinia and Madagascar
- THE MAP THAT IS HALF UNROLLED
- Across Africa from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic
- IN BARBARY
- Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Tripolitania and the Sahara
- THE LAST HOME OF MYSTERY
- Ceylon, British India, the Native States, Nepal, the Persian Gulf, Arabia
- MARCHES OF THE NORTH
- Canada from the Labrador to the Yukon
- UNDISCOVERED EUROPE
- Andorra, Albania, Estonia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Monaco and San Marino
- ASIA AT THE CROSSROADS
- Japan, China and the Philippines
- THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN MOSLEM ASIA
- High Politics from the Mediterranean Littoral to Persia
- EMBATTLED BORDERS
- From the Balkans to the Baltic
- THE DANGER ON THE DANUBE
- Hungary and the Little Entente
- THUNDER OVER EUROPE
- The Polish Corridor, Danzig, Upper Silesia, the Saar, the Danube and Alban
- GENTLEMEN ROVERS
- American Soldiers of Fortune
- THE ROAD TO GLORY
- American Filibusters
- FORGOTTEN HEROES
- American Adventurers
- RED DRUM
- FREE LANCE
- GONE ARE THE DAYS
- ADVENTURE ROAD - autobiography
Links to Excerpts from E. Alexander Powell's Great War Writing
- Fighting in Flanders
- In Aerschot and Louvain in 1914
- On the British Battle-Line in 1915
- On the French Front in 1915
- An American Journalist on the Alsace Front
- Fighting in Champagne
- Evacuating French Wounded
- An American Journalist on the French Front in 1916
- An American Journalist on the Yser Front 1917
- An American Journalist at Verdun in 1917
- An American Reporter visits the Russians in France
- An American Journalist on the Italian Front
- A Description of the 'New Contemptible Little Army'
Great War Exploits of E. Alexander Powell from his autobiography
Fellow Photo-Journalist and Colleague
Donald Thomspon : a War Photographer and Cinematographer from Kansas
- during the siege of Antwerp
- Mr. Powell (right) poses with Donald Thompson
visiting the ruins of Louvain in 1914
posing with a group of German officers in Belgium, 1914
Back to Index